Please note: this is a guest post written by Stephen Aron, of International Freight Experts, Inc. You can email Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.ifeonline.com
I have been in the shipping business more than four decades, I have moved my home internationally many times and in the last five years my company has moved hundreds of container shipments to Ecuador. I read a lot of misinformation in the postings and blogs about moving household goods to Ecuador, so I would like to try and enlighten people about shipping and I hope my explanation gives some guidance and information to people before they contract to move.
My first advice is to consider not shipping at all and take what is really important to you on the airplane. Alternatively take your time and put your things in storage, live in Ecuador without shipping until you know what you really want to bring there and then ship a 40ft hi cube container. Try to avoid shipping a small number of things this is a very expensive and the least desirable option.
This outline is specific to USA but it is relevant for shipments from most countries because there are no companies that will handle the entire move from country of origin to delivery in Ecuador, even if you contract the complete service with one company in your country of origin or in Ecuador you need to know who the other companies are that will be subcontractors involved in your move. These subcontractors will not be financially connected to the party you contract with so you need to make sure that all of them are licensed and qualified to handle your shipment.
The Vessel Operator is the company that will supply the container that carries your household goods; they don’t deal with the public so you will communicate with them through an Ocean Transport Intermediary. If you chose to purchase your own container the vessel operator will charge a premium to carry a “shipper owned container”. If you are planning a smaller shipment and not using your own exclusive container, there will also be a Consolidator who arranges several shipments in one container and makes them available in Guayaquil through a Deconsolidator.
You need to know which port of exit your container will leave from and the transit time offered to Guayaquil. If the sailing is not direct then ask which ports/countries they will transship your container. Ask to see the proposed shipping schedule. Each vessel operator has their own representatives in Guayaquil that set the local rules and charges such as payment of a “container deposit guarantee”. Know in advance how much “free time” they allow you to return the empty container to them after their vessel discharges your container in Guayaquil and what the charges are if you exceed the allowed free time. Prepay the local charges assessed by the agent in Guayaquil in your country of origin or have these charges spelled out for you in writing especially when you are going to be dealing with a Deconsolidator because the cost to have your pallet taken out of the container in Guayaquil can run into hundreds of dollars.
The Ocean Transport Intermediary is also known as a Freight Forwarder or NVOCC (non vessel operating common carrier). They are licensed by the US Federal Maritime Commission. The license is issued after a thorough background check, trade references and proof of experience as well as financial responsibility. The FMC gives advice and information on household goods, international moves and licensing on their web site http://www.fmc.gov/ under the headings “Public”, “OTIs” and “VOCCs”. You will read on this web site that OTI’s post a bond with the FMC and this body will investigate complaints by the public if a shipment is not handled correctly and to your satisfaction. Professional moving companies have licenses and some have bonds but these are not to be confused with the ones issued by the FMC. The moving companies don’t have any third party that will help you when things go wrong.
The OTI is responsible for booking space with the vessel operator then the OTI arranges to position the container at the warehouse or residence. They file the export paperwork on behalf of you the shipper and making sure that you the consignee have the required documents to clear the shipment at destination. The OTI does not arrange packing or loading but can generally help you with recommendations or refer you to moving companies they work with. You the shipper is expected to supply all the information required for the shipping and export paperwork but a good OTI will work with you to ensure it is all correct. For instance the weight of your effects is very important because they will be weighed in Ecuador prior to being allowed to leave Guayaquil and any discrepancy will delay your shipment. Most people can only guess at the weight of their belongings but this information is available on line free at the ocean terminal where every export container is weighed, so there is no need to pay the movers or the trucker to scale the load, the OTI can get this weight for your documents without a charge.
The price to ship a container from North America to Guayaquil varies depending upon the proximity of a port with a service to Ecuador. There is also not much saving for a 20ft container 1,172 cubic feet compared to a 40ft hi cube 2,669 cubic feet. A reasonable budget from positioning the container at your residence to arrival Guayaquil is $5,000.00 for a 20ft and $6,000.00 for a 40ft (there is no difference in price between the standard 8ft 6in high 40ft and the 9ft 6in high 40ft hi cube). Closer to a port it might be less and further away slightly more.
To purchase seaworthy container also varies according to the region you buy it but $3,500.00 is a good budget and the usual additional charge by the vessel operator adds $500.00 to your freight cost. Currently you can sell your container in Ecuador for more than you have paid for it but be careful because you will have to include it as part of your special onetime free import which restricts your ability to sell it because you are prohibited from selling your duty free imported goods for three years. So unless you are planning to use it for long term storage this probably isn’t a good option for you. Also before you buy be careful to check that it will fit down the roads to your new residence and that there is an economic option to get it off the truck once it gets there. Cranes capable of lifting a loaded container off a truck are not generally available. Usually they will unload the container then pull it off the truck with chains.
An International Moving Company in the origin country is not a good option for Ecuador, they know how to pack for international transportation but they generally don’t know the import regulations and they lack the knowledge to do the detailed packing list that is required for Ecuador. Even if one is able to get a mover to keep the detail as they pack, the time it takes them to list everything makes it cost prohibitive. Don’t be intimidated by your lack of experience packing there is plenty of advice available and it is easy to buy packing materials. You will generally do a better job packing yourself over several weeks taking your time and being careful than the professionals who try to do it on one or two days moving at speed. These moving companies have no one in house that handles shipping so they pass this off to an OTI and their only interest in the “international” part is the additional profit it brings to them when they mark up the OTI price. Depending upon your budget it is worthwhile to have professionals blanket or pad wrap your larger items and furniture as well as load your container but even this part doesn’t require special expertise but it is labor intensive. The customs inspection in Guayaquil is an all day affair and they will open and inspect every carton!
The Storage Company in the origin country will always be very welcoming and helpful to get your business but many are not so accommodating when you are taking your things out of storage to ship them. Make sure that before you commit to a manned or unmanned storage facility that you are clear on who is going to do what when you are at the end of the contract and you are arranging shipment. Agree who is going to be responsible to make sure that everything comes out of storage goes into the truck or container and most importantly have all costs clearly identified and confirmed in writing. Don’t put things into storage unless you have prepared them for shipment because doing this at a later date will make it much more expensive. Make sure that any storage location can accommodate the large truck that will bring the container to load.
A Facilitator in Ecuador is essential. They can be moving companies, lawyers and individuals who will assist with the import process then arrange delivery and unpacking. You need to be comfortable with the entity that helps you through this process. Interview at least three facilitators, compare credentials check references and pricing. Make sure they are affiliated with Ecuador’s Customs Agents Chamber. The facilitator will give you samples of how to do your packing list, what can be shipped and what not to ship as well as how to number and mark your cartons. They will help you with the translation into Spanish, then help you gather and submit all the required documents to customs. Facilitator’s fees vary but most are in the $700- $1000.00 range but there are a lot of additional costs once your container arrives in Guayaquil. It is a good idea to insist on a lump sum all inclusive price to clear and deliver your belongings inside your new residence. For delivery anywhere in Ecuador this should be around $4,000.00 and no more than $5,000.00 for any size container. Be aware that if you decide to only ship a pallet or moving crate (referred to as a lift van) it will not save you any money because these fees are still charged for any size shipment. The saving on trucking to destination is wiped out by the extra handling costs in Guayaquil.
Customs Clearance in Ecuador used to be hassle free shipping your container to Cuenca for clearance under “Regimen 80”, however nowadays customs in Guayaquil is opening every container for an inspection, so if you opt for clearance in Cuenca you will be subjected to two inspections. You can help yourself through this process by opting for clearance in Guayaquil and attending personally rather than have someone represent you. Then you are able to explain any discrepancies and answer any questions. Make sure that the piece count on your packing list matches the piece count on the shipping documents and that your numbers are sequential. They will open cartons and check that the contents match exactly what you have on your packing list any discrepancies will delay your clearance. They have the right to confiscate anything that is not listed or charge duty for items that are not considered to be your own household items. The rules and what you can bring into Ecuador are sometimes open to interpretation but the prime requirement is that everything is for you own personal use. An accurate and complete packing list is the key to a straightforward clearance in the free time allowed so the effort you put into compiling your list will save you a lot of aggravation and delays when your shipment arrives in Guayaquil.
There is a compulsory insurance required by Ecuador included in the facilitator’s charges. This is not to be confused with the maritime insurance cover, which is optional but highly recommended. Although total loss is rare, containers are stacked on the deck of a vessel and can go overboard or get crushed by big machines on the terminals. There are also some maritime laws that safeguard vessel operators and make all cargo owners contribute to any interruption to an ocean voyage such as running aground, collisions, fire on board or even sinking. It is highly unlikely that properly packed belongings are going to get damaged and there is not much chance of theft because ports are now secure locations so full cover isn’t necessary but basic cover will protect you against the catastrophic loss of your investment in your belongings and freight cost as well as safeguarding your against the possibility of having to contribute to what is referred to as “General Average” on the ocean voyage. Depending upon the insurance company this policy will cost one to two per cent of the covered value.
Current Ecuador Customs Rules
In the years I have been handling household goods shipments to Ecuador the rules and interpretation of the rules have changed many times. They can also change at a moment’s notice and unfortunately can depend upon individual customs officers especially some who offer in return for a payment to turn a blind eye if there are mistakes in the packing list or to allow items that are not supposed to be imported. Some facilitators encourage Gringos to pay up, my advice is to ask the question of the facilitator before you ship and walk away from those that tell you this practice is OK. If you carefully follow the rules there is no reason to pay anyone grease money. There have been many instances of people paying and still not getting their shipment released.
You are allowed a onetime duty-free import of personal household items and up to $30,000.00 worth of items to start a small business. The business items need to be packed separately from the household items and include work equipment, these are new or used sets of tools, instruments and/or professional equipment for the production of work or trade, linked or not to the activity, profession or occupation of the shipper or family member. This also means any portable or stationary tools, equipment, instruments, structures or machinery that can be considered work related. I have helped people import windmills, generators, building materials, tents and a whole lot more. So long as it is for you and no one else and you declare it correctly it will be allowed.
Both the household items and the business items can be brand new in their original packaging they do not have to be used but must be declared as new on your packing list. This one time import has to be within six months of your last entry into Ecuador, not as some people think six months from obtaining your visa or Cedula. So, you can be in Ecuador two or three years go back to your country of origin and purchase what you need and ship a container (you are allowed up to two containers if they arrive on the same ocean vessel). However, if you have dependents on your visa they too must leave the country and return within six months of the containers arrival.
Only returning Ecuadorian citizens are allowed to bring a vehicle as part of this one time import. Gringos cannot bring anything that has a motor, wheels and can be ridden, so no riding mower, ATV, Go Cart etc. are not allowed even if the Gringo is prepared to pay duty and taxes. Vehicles have to be imported by a licensed importer.
You are limited to one of each major appliance, two televisions for a single importer and three televisions for a married couple. Clothes are limited to 200kg per person and all articles of clothing such as belts, shoes, hats must be packed separately in cartons marked with the weight and person’s name and totaled on the packing list to show each person is below 200kg.
This is a very generous import allowance compared to other countries but it has to be for your family’s personal use only, people who help friends by bringing items for them are often found out so better to lose a friend than to bring things for other people.
The prohibited items are fairly obvious, firearms and ammunition, stun guns, archery or weaponry, drugs and narcotics, pornographic material, raw material (not treated wood, or food that is not properly packaged, unpackaged foodstuff and live plants, cell phones, appliances using refrigerant R12-R15, cleaning products and corrosives then not so obvious creams, colognes, perfumes and cosmetics, auto parts and significant amounts of textiles, fabric (no more than 5 meters).
Lastly avoid bringing too much of anything, a large number on your packing list is a good indication that these items are not for your personal use or consumption large numbers will be seen as an abuse of this generous allowance. Moderation will get you a smooth path through this intensive inspection in Guayaquil.